Thoughtful & Abstract: The Killing: Season Four Gets Sent Off

The fourth season of The Killing tries to go out with a bang.
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This conversation takes place between Kim (@kimfreakinB) who watched The Killing as it aired and Shawn (@genx13) who watched every episode in the past five weeks.  It centers around the six episodes of season four that debuted on Netflix on August 1st. 

Shawn: I have to wrap my head around this in segments.  I'm still working through my opinions.  In short, I'm not satisfied.  At all.   But why?  I asked myself a couple questions to start.  Were the characters consistent between the initial three seasons and this last season?  And was it the story that let me down?  That doesn't include my thoughts on the finale.  That's an issue in itself.

What intrigued me about the the show to start was the way it melded multiple plots around the central crime.  It wasn't merely a procedural show about solving the crime.  The first season had the solving of the murder mixed with two detectives working together for the first time, Linden's home life, and the candidate and his election campaign.  The flow of one day per episode felt very organic and balanced.  Even by the end of season three, the stories from the first season still lingered as they tried to solve the Peter Piper case.

This season was half the length of those earlier seasons and the pacing didn't work for me.  There's a murder investigation that feels like it takes too long to get started and then loses steam only to feel hurried to a conclusion over the last two episodes.  The plot is bogged down trying to deal with the plot stopper of Linden shooting Skinner.  Trying to explain their way out of this gave me extreme tired head.  I've seen so many killers shot by police in shows and movies that it seemed easy for Holder to testify that she was in danger and boom, problem solved.  And maybe that is where I start to feel like the characters just aren't what they were in the first few seasons.

Kim: First of all, I'll say it was nice to have some closure, because you don't always get that from a show that ends.  Netflix picking this up allowed us to see what the fallout of killing Skinner would be for Linden and Holder, so I am grateful that I wasn't left scratching my head wondering how it could have played out.  You bring up several things in your initial flow of thoughts, and I'm going to see if I can't wrap my own head around it all. But before I do that, I was thrilled not to see Holder in a suit coat and tie.  I was irritated that there wasn't very many funny quips from him and I don't think I heard him refer to anyone as "little mama," though he did call a guy a "little pussy".  It just doesn't have the same taste.

Consistent characters. This is a simple no from me, and I tried to pinpoint the whys in it; after all, Linden still wore her hideous trademark bulky sweaters and Holder had the hoodie.  I think what I saw in it was that for three seasons, Linden kept Holder grounded and it was flipped this season, for obvious reasons.  I didn't like that.  Holder's not a "let me help you keep your shit together" kind of guy.  But I think it goes deeper than that when we're talking about consistency.  The switch from cable to Netflix ushered in the ability to drop the f-bomb, and while I was giddy when Holder uttered "fuck" the first time in this series, it got real old, really fast.  Sure, it's probably a natural way for most people to talk in these situations.  But the simple fact is that they didn't talk like this for three years, and just because they can doesn't mean they should.

Am I satisfied with the ending?  Not even close.  I'm going to give you a nod on the pacing issue.  From the onset of season four, it was the pace of a 13-episode season. It was so off, in fact, that I spent the first three (half of this 'season', mind you) wondering why I was bothering to watch it at all.  In the past, I'd have dove in and done a marathon session, watching all six at one time.  However, getting through one per day was difficult.  The second half was so jam packed and felt rushed. They spent an inordinate amount of time in the first episode of seaon four on things that really had no bearing on the season as a whole.  The pharmacy scene comes to mind.  It simply wasn't important and it took up a great deal of time.  There were so many instances of prolonged scenes that I felt were useless fillers, and took up time that could have been better spent developing more of the "story" for the murders.

The wrap-up to the Skinner case was forced.  It also made no freaking sense, what-so-ever.  You have the guy you previously rooted for now being an asshole with no real explanation.  Is this a "power corrupts" scenario, or was it cheap tactic thrown in there to tie it to seasons one and two? I didn't buy any of that and I felt it was almost insulting.

So many things felt wrong.  The whole 15-minutes where you see Holder traveling down old familiar highways, and then it just passes with no explanation or him sinking further.  Then there are the dance instructor and the creepy neighbor artist - red herrings for a 13-episode season that just didn't belong in six.  Furthermore, no real explanation as to the "why" the murders happen in the first place. I'm just at a loss for all of that.  I don't even want to get started on the state of the Linden-Holder relationship at the end of the series.  In talking about this shortened series finale, I'm just as disjointed as the whole thing felt.

Shawn: It was the quick dysfunctional turns that the characters took along the way.  Linden is scared of being caught and Holder is the calm personality.  Then Holder finds out he's going to be a father, freaks out on everyone (his reaction when she told him was perfect - his behavior afterwards less believable), and Linden is grounded because her son has returned.  Holder goes to a church gets healed and then Linden loses her mind again.  Why couldn't they both lose their shit at the same time?  It felt too convenient and predictable.

The characters I knew initially had these issues underlying their detective that made them seem very real.  But they weren't yo-yoing so quickly.  Linden has mental issues - we know that and her weakness made her character one you wanted to cheer for.  She wasn't the best parent because she was so driven to protect all kids, not just her own.  Her losing custody of her son was heartbreaking in the earlier season but it seemed to drive her resolve.  Holder had the weakness of being a drug addict.  His substance abuse felt so close to his past that he felt fragile too.  But the appeal was that the two of them together made a strong pair.  "You're my ride."  That wasn't just a transportation quote; it's what they meant to each other.  When they succeeded it was together.  Even up to the killing of Skinner.  They worked together.

Before I get to the finale, I need to address the murder of this season.  Once again, if this show works, it's because there's a good mystery that we can sleuth while we deal with all the ancillary plot points.  The previous seasons have put children at risk.  It has been abuse and children or young adults and sexuality.  The murders had sex at their root in some way.  This season's murder of the family accomplished those beats - there was multiple sexual subplots including mother/son sexual abuse, voyeurism, teacher/student sexual relations, and hints at even more.

There were two points where I thought they got lazy because they were on Netflix and not cable television.  The scene where our killer is pushed over the edge in the shower is too convenient.  He's asked to masturbate over a picture of his mother.  And somehow this abuse by his classmates is enough to push him over the edge to go commit the murders.  That scene in the locker room seemed so over the top for even these cadets that I didn't buy it.  The recreation of the murders did little other than serve to try to shock the viewer.  He could have told us what happened more effectively than seeing it.  Especially the murder of his youngest sister.  Had I seen that in the opening scene, I would have been ruined emotionally and motivated to see vengeance on the killer by the end of the season.  By the time it shows up at the end, I know who the killer is and I'm ambivalent by then about his ultimate fate because we already know he's caught.  Showing it served to try to up the emotional ante but the final episodes don't need so many final beats.

I was ready for it to end as the killer was led away and noticed there were still fifteen minutes left in the episode.  What more did I need as a viewer at that point?  Nothing.  Skinner was tied up and so were the murders.  So I get that ending.  Do you buy it?

Kim: I'm glad you brought up the masturbation scene because that whole thing was just strange.  I was unsure of a few things with that whole hazing ritual.  I was watching it wondering what kind of boys these were who were insisting that it happen in the first place.  I kind of get why he snapped - he mentioned that she didn't treat him like her son and he was sexually abused by her, egged on by the other cadets and snapped.  What I didn't understand was the cadets switching from him needing to masturbate to the picture to all of them encouraging him to kill her.  Was this put out there by the Colonel?  Was this something that they just evolved to on the fly?  What was it about?  And if those boys didn't want him to remember these things, why lure him there in the first place?

I have no idea how involved the Colonel was in planning or encouraging the murders.  I think she was an accessory after the fact, but I'm not 100% clear on that.  My biggest take-away from the murder story line?  It shouldn't have been there.  They had enough to sort out in six episodes without adding the murder. Why not just develop the Skinner story, Linden coming to terms with her life, Holder his life, and meet at the end for drinks?  There wasn't enough time, and that seems to be a theme we come back to throughout this conversation:  too much for six episodes.  I would have liked more about the boy from last season.  Let's look in on Rosie's parents and how they're dealing with things.

I'm still bothered by the appearance of Richmond at the end of the Skinner case.  OK, I get that he's pissed because he's in the wheelchair, but come on.  It's been a while. Why is he sticking his nose in things and essentially giving Linden an out when he's got so much anger toward her?   I don't buy that he was concerned about a rogue cop as a serial killer and was trying to protect the police department.  He protects them by enabling another cop to essentially get away with murder?  It was all just wrong, and it felt cheap.  He had no bearing on the show and I'm still wondering what he was even doing there.

I don't like neat and tidy, especially in messy stories and endings.  Linden and Holder's characters were so rich, full, and a great combo throughout three seasons that the misfires on both sides during this was just too much for me. I think you're wrong though.  I think for ending a series, we needed that last 15 minutes, because everyone was wondering if Holder and Linden would wind up together after that near-miss of a make-out session in season 3.  You can't just end it without the fans knowing where their heroes wind up.

Do you think their respective life-changes are realistic after all they've been through?

Shawn: You're right on about Richmond.  His appearance pinpoints the moment at which the series could have ended with a better taste in my mouth and ended up swirling down the toilet.  That was a convenient "we've painted ourselves into a corner" solution to the crime.  And it tries way too hard to tie back into the first season.  His bitterness is understandable but not the character we met previously.  Even then, I would have accepted the series ending with Holder and Linden walking away.  In life that's how things end sometimes.  You build a bond with someone and then it is harmed beyond repair and you two go on your own way.

Good question.  Are the life-changes realistic?  I think it's the way it went down over that last 15 minutes that was worse than the actual plot. Holder's transformation is believable based on what we knew about his personality from the series.  His transformation as a father was what really hit me.  Linden is more problematic.  I think I'd need more details about what she has been doing.  What is her connection to her son now?  How has she made money?  What relationships has she had since leaving Seattle?

What did I think would have brought it home to me?  Let me see Holder with his daughter, show me his job, and that he's single.  Don't have Linden drive around town after seeing Holder.  That's the type of reunion that I expect to be awkward and intimate at the same time.  They should run into each other on the street in the rain and immediately go to get a coffee and sandwich at the deli.  Fade back out through the window and just see them interact by their faces.  I don't want to know if they'll date, if she'll stay, or if they'll even talk about getting together.  I want to just see them both smile at each other.  This is reality.  The beauty of it is that  grin on the face of an old friend across a table.

Kim: Yeah, they gave the impression that Linden had no job, just roamed around the country.  What brought her back around to Seattle?  No idea.  Why, when she came back, did she not have on another sweater?  Maybe she sold them all at flea markets for gas and smoke money.  How do we know?  More importantly, do we care?  Call me crazy, but the end of the story puts them roughly five years from when they last saw each other?  And she doesn't have a new hairdo?  This is America, not some third-world country.  

All joking aside though, I wanted the kiss.  I thought her leaving the first time was an irritant, a time killer, giving the audience a tour of the city, where almost every shot had the Space Needle in it.  You know, just in case you forgot it was Seattle.  Because in season four, it was sunnier than the past three years.  Global warming, maybe?  I'm off track.

Yes, I wanted the kiss.  I think leaving with the question about will they or won't they is a cop out.  Tell the story you want to tell.  You know where you wanted it to end, why not step on some toes and tell the damn story?  I hate unfinished stories, and to be honest, this doesn't feel any more finished than it felt at the end of season three.

Overall, I really enjoyed seasons one and two.  I think season three knocked it out of the park and made me long for more Linden, Holder, and their interactions, their realism, and the overwhelming sense of "we're in this world, we're totally imperfect, but we've got each other's back."  I didn't feel that in season four at all.  Never.  Not once.  And that's a shame. I like the idea of friends having coffee at a table, but would have preferred them having sex, on the table.  This was Netflix, after all.  Go out with a bang.

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